Cassandra (Cass), born Dec. 2, 1957, passed away Friday, Dec. 18, 2020, due to complications of COVID-19 including pneumonia and a preexisting condition of lupus.
In her toddler years, Cass spent a lot of time with her grandmother, Jeanette Reuben-Wilson, where she learned invaluable lessons about being a strong, hard-working Nimiipuu women. Around 1963, the family moved to Eugene, Ore., a place that played a major role in teaching her to care for others, volunteer when needed, and learn to be an activist for civil rights. Her father, John Allen Sr., shared with her his love for reading while her mother, Iva Wilson, encouraged her to keep genuine kindness always in her heart.
In the ’70s as a teenager, she traveled home to the “Rez” in the summers and learned from her older sisters, Nellie Axtell and Patsy Higheagle, how and where to fish, hunt and gather. Some summer weekends, she and her sister, Jenny, would sneak off and hop on a bus full of activists heading to the next American Indian Movement “call for action” event. Eugene was also a center of student activism and while there they attended Lane Community College.
Her first child, Gregory Lee Crowe Jr., was born in 1975. Becoming a mother matured her into womanhood and she took on all the responsibilities full force. Many hours were spent with her mother and new in-laws, the Crowes and Franks, gathering traditional foods and learning to perfect her baking skills. It was around this time that several of the women met and felt there was a great need to re-establish the dormant Nimiipuu Longhouse. She assisted in cleaning up the old meeting shed, raising funds to get the electricity on, and becoming a cook for family and large events.
In 1978, she had her second child, Andre Lance Picard Jr. He and his father, Andre Sr., became the nucleus of singers who would show up with her to Seven Drum services each Sunday. The formation of the Longhouse circle heightened the awareness of all the families involved to Nimiipuu treaty rights and making sure they were safe and secure for future generations. In 1981, she had her third child, Angela Rebells Picard. A week later a battle for fishing began as many people were told they could no longer fish down at Rapid River. Cassandra’s activism lessons kicked into high gear and, with the help of her sister, Nellie, and her husband, Andre Sr., and numerous other fishermen and women, they began to strategize and prepare for the “fish wars and fish-ins.” Flyers were created with an old mimeograph and they put them up all over town. She loved talking about this time in her life and how proud she was of those who were ready to lay their life on the line for the Salmon. This movement led to the development of the Nez Perce Fishermen’s Committee, a Supreme Court decision that upheld Nez Perce fishing rights, and laid the groundwork for the development of the Nez Perce Tribes Fisheries Department. Cassandra had a way with words and could speak passionately on this topic which led to an invitation to speak at the World Court in Geneva, Switzerland (in the Hauge) to address the United Nations on Indian Civil Rights.
In 1983, she met the love of her life, Robert Garcia Kipp, and had her last son, Earl John David Kipp. From this point on, she made it a high priority to be sure her kids had regalia ready for powwows and longhouse ceremonies. She began to travel to powwows, instilling in her children to have pride in being Native, the ability to listen to the elders, and the desire to dance hard for them when it was time.
Cass worked full time and went to school full time for a few years. Her husband went above and beyond to make sure she completed her goal and she graduated from Lewis-Clark State College. She also started Cass’s Kitchen (a powwow concession stand) which helped make up any shortfall for travel funds. After making frybread all day, she would go enjoy stick games and point a game or two which she usually won and would share her winnings with her friends and family.
Around 1994, the Nez Perce Horse Program was invited to Belgium in Europe to present the Nimiipuu Horse Culture and Dances. Cass was one of the ambassadors for the trip and made sure that everyone had funding to go. She also organized a dance troop full of high school Indian Club members that performed across the Northwest. This led to the formation of the “Hotsteppers,” a fancy shawl dance group that she taught to sew their own matching regalia and dance in sync with each other. They performed during halftime shows at local basketball games and were invited to perform at the Gathering of Nations Powwow in Albuquerque, N.M.
She became the director of the Nez Perce Futures Program in the early ’90s that supported pregnant and postpartum women to not use alcohol or drugs. In this position, she was introduced to the world of grant writing. Her first project funded was the Family Services Building. In 1995, she was funded for the Students for Success Program with the theme “Success, if it is to be it is up to me!” More than 20 years later, this program is still helping tribal youth. Cass left a legacy with her effort to teach youth and their parents how to make dance regalia and moccasins. She was proud to be able to help families get on the dance floor with fully dressed attire. Cultural activities and preparing for those activities led her to gather folks up to host a Rootfeast and powwow which was held Mother’s Day weekend. She spent endless hours baking and making corsages for every mother to make everyone feel special.
The next few years she continued her community involvement by assisting Joyce McFarland in reigniting the Lapwai Booster Club and working with Jenny Williams and the Lapwai High School Indian Club to get involved with the Northwest Indian Youth Conference. She also started volunteer basketball coaching for her daughter’s friends and son’s friends. Andre’s team, “Lapwai Force,” went on to win several championships in AAU and Native Tourneys.
In work, she became an economic development planner for the Nez Perce Tribe and collaborated with Jack Bell to create a feasibility study for biodiesel production using rapeseed, canola and mustard. A plan was completed for a full-blown facility to produce millions of gallons of fuel. She also led the effort to build the Boys and Girls Club in Lapwai. She created everlasting friendships in this position and did as much as she could to get all her projects approved for the betterment of her people.
Soon an opportunity arose and the San Carlos Apache Tribe from the southwest requested her assistance in their planning department. In three years, she developed a strategic plan, completed a feasibility study, worked to assist in the creation of a radio station for the tribe, and helped the council make the decision to expand their casino and start a new casino called the “Apache Sky.” Cass also felt compelled to encourage a new health care facility and played a role in its development. She shared with her family how much love and appreciation she had for the San Carlos people and their community.
Her final employment was back with the Nez Perce Tribe in the Natural Resources Department as a planner. Cassandra was the best at running the numbers through feasibility studies. She understood for anything to have a chance at success, data was key. She was direct and unafraid to put information in front of tribal leadership so they could make a sound decision. She carried a lot of pride in her work but also believed in her people to be smart and diligent in their work as well. She developed plans for a new Natural Resources building and a Horseman’s facility to place horse culture back into the tribe. Her most recent work was the Agriculture Limestone Production at Mission Creek to enhance production of cereal crops which would provide more revenue to the tribe. Her heart was in every project 100 percent and only hoped to see Nimiipuu adults and their children benefit from their progress.
Cassandra always kept close ties to the youth and continued to volunteer coach and became an honorary “Alet” to all. Rezpups, Wipwip, Tropics, Lapwai Huskies, Lil’ Warriors, Team Nephews, Team Temi, RipCity, Lil’ Lady Cats, Lapwai 2024, Wipwip, Jrs., and Nimiipuu Warriors Cheer Squad were the teams she supported through monetary donations, planning fundraisers and making lunch bags for the kids in between games. Never once did she allow a kid to miss a game or play hungry.
During this last year, she spent a lot of time with her children and grandchildren which included planning a trip to Hawaii for a 360 Gymnastics meet for her granddaughter and to Las Vegas for national youth basketball tournament for her grandsons. In the summer, she took them on trips to the hills to dig roots and mountains to pick berries. She heard them speaking about building a basketball court in the backyard and helped them make it happen. Finally, she helped start a community garden out at Chaweekta, teaching her grandchildren all about growing healthy foods, when to harvest them, and how to can and store them.
She is survived by her husband, Robert Garcia Kipp; children Gregory Crowe and Mikayla Greene, Andre and Maggie Picard, Angela Picard and Jo Payne, and Earl Kipp, all of Lapwai; grandchildren Angelo Hidalgo, of Pocatello, Antoinette Crowe, of Chicago, Skyler Crowe, of Mission, Ore., Miss Mia Nickerson, of Oregon, Sillouette Crowe, of Lapwai, Alonzo, William, Cynthia, and Frankie, of Chaweekta, Idaho, Joseph, Ella and Max, of Lapwai, Quenten, Vincent and Kaylonni Kipp, of Lapwai; siblings Charles Axtell, of Chaweekta, Idaho, and Jeanette Allen, of Seattle, Wash.; many nieces and nephews; and pet cats Roberta and Cloudy Kipp.
She was preceded in death by parents John Allen Sr. and Iva Reebells Wilson; siblings Patsy Higheagle, Nellie Axtell, Deano and Taawits John Allen Jr.; pet cat the Original Sylvester Kipp.
The funeral was held Dec. 21, 2020, at the Pineewaus Community Center. The family would like to thank all her friends and family who have shared their condolences and wonderful stories of how she affected their life. They would also like to thank the amazing staff at St. Joseph Regional Medical Center for handling her with such great care.